Everyday is a winding road

•September 9, 2014 • 2 Comments

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Hello all.

It’s been too long. I know it’s been too long but this last month has been an absolute whirlwind.

First it’s important that you know I haven’t turned into some athletic badass or muscled goddess (yet) – and for the record, just because I work for a fitness company doesn’t mean I’m a personal trainer.

But I do cycle to work everyday. Well, almost everyday. When there’s a tempest I call Colin and he generally comes to my rescue. It’s 10km from our flat to my office, and it takes me roughly 35 minutes. Most of my route there’s a cycle path, which is a rarity in Auckland. It’s such a rarity that it’s peppered with super fit-types out for their morning run. There’s also a running club of some sort on Wednesday nights. Then there are hoards of people casually jogging in a giant gaggle with about as much grace as a goose. This makes me feel strangely aggressive, and I have to fight the urge to gesture wildly at the bike stenciled on my half of the path. Continue reading ‘Everyday is a winding road’

Everyday I Get a Little More JAFA (wait! I hope not)

•July 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A few posts ago, I hinted at some looming major life changes. By now, many of you know that the shakedown has happened. It’s official.

  1. Les Mills offered me a job as Social Media Community Coordinator, and I’m taking the position. At the moment we plan on staying in Auckland for a minimum of 1 more year. Though we may occasionally find ourselves surrounded by JAFAs (just another f’ing Aucklander), we still strive to be humble members of the international community. What’s more? I’ll be living the dream according to Moss: 
  2. We’ve signed a lease for a new flat over in Mission Bay. It’s an adorable 2 bedroom – WE HAVE A GUEST BEDROOM – very near the lovely Kepa Bush Reserve and a 10 minute bike ride to the sea. Floor no more! Sorry you had to sleep on sofa cushions when you visited us Julia. We’re upgrading and ya’ll are welcome to visit us anytime…taking bookings now. And yes, the grass is really greener in New Zealand. IMG_2017
  3. Displaced Nation, “A home for international creatives,” recognized Today I’m 20-Something in the June edition of their Alice Awards. What a breakthrough for my blundering travel blog! As for those who qualify for the Alice, according to Displaced Nation, “most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager. Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.”

So although it feels like we’ve been in the middle of a tempest for the last week straight, things seem to be moving and shaking in a positive direction. Before you’re all like, “Look at all the obnoxiously sweet things that are happening in Brittany’s life,” I’d like to remind you that it has not been an easy road to haul and the gods aren’t just sprinkling me with good fortune.

Let’s take a look back:

April 18, 2013: Arrives in Auckland – indebted to boyfriend – visits all decent looking eateries dropping off CV.

May 2, 2013: Gets job at The Blue Breeze Inn, a modern Chinese fusion restaurant where the uniform is a silk Hawaiian flower shirt and you have to use your best BIG GIRL VOICE to be heard because of the terrible acoustics.

August 1, 2013: Quits job at Blue Breeze to go work at O’Connell Street Bistro. Makes it through one week before getting yelled at for polishing cutlery too loudly by pink-faced boss and quits to go work at a social media company.

August 19, 2013: Begins work at Castleford Media, a social media company based out of Sydney (based out of London), that has outsourced to Auckland because labor’s cheaper here. Works stupidly long hours. Stops exercising. Complains constantly. Cannot write fast enough. Starts to hate writing.

September 3, 2013: Takes the GRE. Starts preparing grad school essays.

October 15, 2013: Puts in 2 weeks notice at Castleford.

October 19, 2013: After two trial shifts, gets offered a job at The French Cafe, a “3 Hat” fine dining establishment in Auckland, and one of the best restaurants in New Zealand.

November 1, 2013: Begins work at French Cafe. Enjoys the job but often feels nagging pull of existential life crisis.

November 1 – December 31, 2013: Submits 6 graduate school applications. Meanwhile, continues to search and apply for any jobs in Auckland that meet qualifications.

January 1 – March 1, 2014: Gets accepted to 5 out of 6 graduate schools (and wait-listed at Berkeley). Hooray! Immediately commences funding crisis.

March 18, 2014: Spends a pretty penny to submit partnership-based visa to immigration. Avoids being kicked out of the country in April.

April 24, 2014: Applies for Les Mills Social Media role.

May 1, 2014: Puts down a deposit on Boston University. Chooses them largely because they’ve offered the most generous scholarship. Continues to battle funding crisis and mad scramble for Graduate Assistantship, without which future of debt is certain.

May 13, 2014: Secures first interview with Les Mills! Despite getting lost and arriving late, the meeting goes well. Leaves feeling positive.

May 28, 2014: Second interview with Les Mills. Excited about prospects. Still feels mounting panic, no graduate assistantship on the horizon.

June 11, 2014: Les Mills checks references. Finally sees glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

June 23, 2014: Les Mills contract arrives by courier just after sunset.

I’d like to end this post with the embarrassing story I told my interviewers (and new boss) when they asked me what my biggest social media gaff was. I haven’t had any memorable gaffes yet – knock on wood – and as the seconds ticked by I realized I needed to tell them something. So naturally I told them this:

I was hiking with my mum at Franz Joseph Glacier on the West Coast of New Zealand. It was a dreary day in Franz Joseph, but we were determined to see the sights. The melting glacier feeds into a relatively massive river and we started walking on a trail that weaves alongside it. Right away we noticed a couple – we speculated from the Netherlands – who were both tall, square-shouldered, and had very defined facial features. They were also wearing matching yellow raincoats, which caused us to nickname them the Yellow Jackets. She had on calf-height suede boots, and I remember thinking that was very impractical given the weather. The Yellow Jackets were always just behind us, to the point where if we’d stop to take a photo they would pass us, then they’d stop and we would pass them. The glacier’s quite a tourist attraction, but all the same it doesn’t happen very often in New Zealand that you get tailed on a trail.

Anyway, this went on for some time, until finally we went a different direction and didn’t see them for awhile. We headed out to this little viewpoint and I really had to pee, so I told my mum to go ahead and I stepped off the trail in search of some good coverage. Unfortunately, this particular spot was a narrow strip of land leading out toward a lake, and there were slim pickings as far as good foliage to squat behind. We hadn’t seen anyone in long enough that I just decided to go for it. I got myself organized and started to go when I heard voices and the crunch of boots. Knowing I was in full view of the trail – and that anyone who walked by had pretty much a 100% chance of seeing my bum, I began to panic. I couldn’t exactly stop mid-pee, but I tried mightily and began to pull my pants up regardless. Low and behold, as I was struggling to sort out my situation I saw the flash of a yellow jacket as it rounded the corner. The man had a giant camera and he was actively staring into the bush looking for photo-opportunities. Absolutely cornered – and certain he would spot me – I adopted what I like to call the “Dora the Explorer” pose, in which you crouch down low and put a hand to your forehead (imagine a salute) and act as if you’re peering into the bush, tracking some amazing animal.

I didn’t move – I reckon I didn’t even blink – as they approached. When they were finally right next to my patch of forest the man looked directly into the bush.  As predicted he spotted me and gave a start. I pretended to remain transfixed by the imaginary rare bird I was tracking. After what seemed like an eternity they passed by and I stood up, got myself organized, and climbed out of the bush. To make matters even more awkward, the trail dead-ended at this little viewpoint where my mum was waiting for me. I knew I would have to go fetch her and face the Yellow Jackets once more. I did my best to appear confident and carefree as I reached the viewing platform. Ever observant, the Yellow Jackets turned as I walked up and we locked eyes for a moment, and in that moment I knew that they knew that I knew. I quickly took in the view (I’ve seen lakes before…) and then suggested that we head back.

As mum and I strolled away from the lake, I filled her in on the details of what had just transpired. She began to laugh so hard that tears streamed down her face and I thought she might pee her pants.

Yes, I told that story during an interview. And I eventually got the job. #firstimpressions #makeyourmark

Adventures – and misadventures – in the Waitakere Ranges

•May 21, 2014 • 1 Comment
Milly and I enjoying the view on a different hike in the Waitakere Ranges.

Milly and me enjoying the view on a different hike in the Waitakere Ranges.

THIS IS THE STORY OF TWO NEW FRIENDS, ONE WASP STING, AND A VERY RAINY MOUNTAIN RANGE. On the day in question, I woke up to an unimaginably beautiful Monday in Auckland – of the “not a cloud in the sky” variety. I was having breakfast with a dear friend of mine from the Blue Breeze, who I hadn’t managed to catch up with in several months. We had a blissful morning meal at Queenie’s, where we sat outside to soak up the sun’s rays (but not before driving around for 15 minutes in search of a parking spot). Then we hopped in the van and headed west.

There are a few other details that are crucial to this story; one is that, though an experienced driver of manual cars, I had never really driven around Auckland – only cycled; the other is that I had only driven the van on one other occasion, which was on the country roads around Napier (a quaint seaside town, 4 hours south of Auckland) several months before. The third important detail is that Auckland – like most of New Zealand – is comprised of many hills, some of which are quite large and steep. I will also admit that Colin asked me if I understood and was familiar with the van’s quirks, to which I casually shrugged and nodded.

I had briefly studied the directions on google maps, so I was pretty sure I knew the way out toward the Waitakere ranges. Almost immediately, however, I missed the turn onto the motorway and Milly was tasked with trying to redirect us. I made a few instinctive turns, hoping they would lead us back in the right direction. Milly tried to get her smartphone to pull up our whereabouts and remedy the situation with directions as quickly as possible. It may be an understatement to call what we did “the scenic route”, but we did get back on track eventually.

A quick description of Milly: a perpetually tan, slim Aussie from Tasmania with thick, brown Pantene Pro V hair and a soothing, gravely voice. Milly’s been living in Auckland for four years, and working as the Maitre’d at the Blue Breeze Inn for the last year. She studied as a florist, is a truly gifted musician, and generally one of those glowing, charismatic people that brings laughter and light where she goes. In short, she’s a gem. It was pretty much the first time we’d really gotten the chance to hang out together. I was quickly making a name for myself as someone who inadvertently creates adventure and takes her friends along for the ride.

Sudden side thought: no wonder Colin and I are always setting out for a casual day trip and ending up on some incredible escapade, we’re each as bad as the other. 

When we finally reached our destination – a hike in the Waitaks that I’d done before with Colin – I parked the van on a small downward slope in the gravel parking lot. This would prove problematic later. I glanced up and furrowed my brow at a large, deep grey cloud hovering over the forest. We ventured into the woods – me with my daypack full of water and some snacks, Milly with only a long-sleeve shirt and a pair of sunglasses.

We intended to do a shorter loop than the one Colin and I had done previously, and for this reason we reckoned there was time to detour and explore another track I hadn’t been on before. We crossed a small stream, jumping from rock to rock, and climbed up into another bit of native forest. Since we hadn’t seen one another in ages, we were talking incessantly, barely stopping to notice what was going on around us. Neither of us heard the gentle pitter patter of rain drops on fern leaves. We did not see the trees dip and bend, their leaves laden with water droplets. We didn’t even realize that the birds had ceased their singing and retreated to their respective bushy nooks to wait out the storm. Not until the ground in front of us began to swell with rain (which doesn’t take much, actually, the volcanic soil being so moisture rich in the first place) and large muddy patches popped up out of nowhere, did we stop to take note of our situation.

The state of affairs being that we were in the middle of the forest, with absolutely no cell reception, no raincoats, both wearing mediocre walking shoes, and in the center of a heavy downpour. So we stopped beneath a magnificent tree and stood waiting for the rain to let up while we continued to tell each other stories. Perhaps 10 minutes went by before we decided to head back. The trail we had just tread on was now made unrecognizable by the rain, liberally sprinkled with little pools of water and patches of mud. When we finally reached the intersection from which we detoured, we decided to press on rather than go back the way we came. We reasoned that the rain would stop, so why let it spoil our adventure?

Soon we encountered another short side path that led to a pretty little waterfall. I was walking ahead of Milly when I felt a sharp pain on the back of my leg. I stopped short and brushed my hand across the aching spot on my thigh. I felt something insect-like come off and tumble to the ground. Surprised by the amount of pain I was in and unable to comprehend what just happened, I searched the ground for the culprit. I couldn’t see anything but leaf litter. I asked Milly to have a look at the place on my thigh that was beginning to throb. There was a small red speck, she said, but nothing really.

“What hurts you like that in the woods in New Zealand?” she asked.

The answer lay a little way further down the track. True to form, the rain had stopped and sunlight was breaking through the clouds, sending it’s glorious rays to the forest floor. In the dapples of sunlight, I could see something buzzing around. Then it hit me: wasps. Wasps! Of course. The Department of Conservation (DOC) had issued warnings on their website about wasps some time ago; I remembered reading them while searching for good tramping trails. All the same, it had never occurred to me that I might be stung on the trail. I had no Benadryl – nothing to reduce the swelling. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d been stung. Had I reacted badly? I knew my mom was mildly allergic. I also knew you could develop allergies like that. So, as you might imagine, my paranoia was swelling in tandem with my wasp sting.

I decided the best and only thing to do was to ignore the sting. Milly and I climbed up a little-used trail and bushwhacked a bit to get to another waterfall that Colin had discovered last time (while we were in Africa, Colin developed a reputation for his insatiable curiosity and was often called upon to go do a little reconnaissance because he was always game for adventure – eventually our friends coined a phrase for this: re-colin). The waterfall, which boasted a deep blue pool, was definitely worth sidetracking for. We rehydrated, shared some almonds and enjoyed the view while wishing it was warm enough to swim.

We bush-whacked above this little waterfall until we reached the momma falls where a big swimming pool taunted us.

We bushwhacked above this little waterfall until we reached the momma falls where a big swimming pool taunted us.

Back on the main trail, we began a steep ascent that seemed to go on forever. 40 minutes into the endless and swiftly rising switchbacks, I got a nagging feeling that we’d missed the turnoff for the shorter circuit and were now in the midst of the full 6 hour hike. The sting was visibly swollen now, with the hot, pink skin spreading from the back of my knee joint and up towards my butt.

“It’s a good thing you’re small, so I can carry you out of here if it comes to that,” Milly joked.

“Oh I’m sure search and rescue wouldn’t mind air-lifting me out of the bush because I’m possibly allergic to a wasp sting. Maybe we should head to the nearest heli-pad,” I said.

As I mentioned, the sun had returned to the Waitaks and even with the rapidly swelling sting, I was in good spirits. When we finally reached the summit, a trail map confirmed my suspicions that we had gone too far.  Neither of us was really surprised – it seemed typical considering the other events of the day. We pressed on, enjoying the swift descent and remarking on the blaze orange moss and bright blue toadstools.

And at long last we emerged from the forest, mud-splattered but smiling.

The spectacular view from the trail's summit on a clear day.

The spectacular view from the trail’s summit on a clear day.

While Milly freshened up by a little river near the car park, I hoisted up the passenger seat (that’s where the engine is), in order to top-up the coolant. I’d seen Colin do this a million times, and he’d offered to show me again the night before. Foolishly I had declined, saying that I remembered how it was done. Now, peering into the engine, it seemed that there were two areas into which coolant could be poured. One of them was what I assumed to be the reservoir. The other was a black cap marked “coolant” attached to a pipe that presumably funneled the liquid further into the depths of the engine and eventually disappeared we-know-not-where. Milly returned and we talked through the situation. Neither of us had reception, so we couldn’t call Colin for answers. We had to rely on our own instinct and cunning to resolve the situation. Milly pointed to a tube that appeared to connect the black cap to the plastic reservoir bucket. We reasoned that meant it was drawing the neon green liquid from from the reservoir as needed, and thus deducted that was where I should pour my jug of coolant.

Having overcome the latest obstacle, we hopped into the van. I started the engine, let it run for a minute and then put it in reverse. Instead of going backwards, however, we rolled forwards and I slammed on the brake in panic. I made sure I was in reverse – which I was. I tried to give it a little extra gas this time, but we still rolled forward. Worried that we would roll into the gate directly in front of us, Milly got out and pushed while I gave her gas. The tires were spinning on the gravel, but with Milly’s hulk-like strength she was able to give the van the extra bit of leverage we needed to gain traction. Feeling a little shaken from all the day’s hurdles, I pulled out of the lot and we started the drive home.

The van whose quirks I underestimated.

The van whose quirks I underestimated.

About a half hour into our journey back into Auckland, I began to get increasingly nervous about the giant hill that was looming in my immediate future. It would almost certainly require a hill start. I got to the dreaded intersection – which was a round-a-bout – and because the person coming through failed to signal (they were turning left and I was going straight), I was forced to come to a full stop. Ironically, Milly and I had just been discussing the way Kiwis fail to indicate when approaching round-a-bouts, often causing traffic jams. Unfortunately for me, the Ford Explorer that had been closely tailing me the whole way back from Huia was right up on my ass. I put the e-brake on, gently eased off it and tried to give the old van enough gas so that I wouldn’t roll back. For whatever reason, the clutch didn’t engage and I did roll back. Feeling unnerved, I took a deep breath and tried again. A second time, I rolled back. Now my rear end was pretty close to the hood of the Explorer behind me, and I didn’t have the courage to risk rolling back again.

“I can’t do this,” I said to Milly, my hands white-knuckled on the wheel.

“Of course you can,” she said. “Take as long as you need. They can wait.”

And with that, she rolled down the window and beckoned the impatient muppet behind me to get back. I put on my flashers. It felt like time had stopped altogether. When he backed up sufficiently, I took a deep breath and tried one more time. Amazingly, the clutch caught, and we continued through the intersection. I was so rattled, however, that I immediately missed my next turn and had to pull over and turn around again. Luckily, it was pretty much a straight shot the rest of the way home with only small hills to contend with. The worst was certainly behind us. When I finally parked the van at Countdown and walked inside to buy us some celebratory craft brews, my legs felt wobbly and the ball of anxiety that had been setting up residence in my stomach sloshed around uncomfortably. Colin met us at the store, and it wasn’t until I’d handed over the keys and talked through a few things with him that I finally felt the colony of butterflies in my stomach take flight in search of some other poor sucker on a hill.

Later, when we raised our crisp pilsners in a salute to our many misadventures and various triumphs, anxiety officially gave way to relieved exhaustion. While Milly and I washed the mud off our sneakers, Colin prepped one of his gourmet pizzas. A pleasant warmth filled the room as we related our adventures. That night I slept deeply, with only the echo of my flatmates’ observation in my head: you just don’t let anything stand in your way, do you? 

 

 

Reflections on a year and a half abroad, from an almost expat

•May 13, 2014 • 2 Comments
The nickname "City of Sails" confirmed during one of my runs along Auckland harbor.

The nickname “City of Sails” confirmed during one of my runs along Auckland harbor.

IT’S RAINING AGAIN IN AUCKLAND. A quilt of grey cloud has spread itself over the entire city, and from the living room window I can see the wax eyes flit about in the backyard, shaking rain drops off their tail feathers. A pair of iridescent blue Tuis perch on the banana tree, singing to one another. I make myself another cuppa tea and add a handsome teaspoon of raw honey that I purchased from the French Cafe’s bee keepers. It’s beautiful, cloudy honey, with a richness unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. In a moment of excess I told Colin that we needed 3 kilos and he didn’t put up any argument. My flatmate, watching me take a dollop of honey from our giant bucket, suggested I transfer some of the golden goodness to a smaller container. Because spooning it out of that bucket made me feel a little naughty – like a child with her hand in the cookie jar – I took that advice.

On our counter we have a bag of feijoas, persimmons and mandarins from a friend’s garden. In our backyard, more mandarins are ripening and a large bunch of bananas has been cut down from our tree. They are swiftly turning yellow on our porch. Feijoas are a revelation. A small green oval of a fruit, they taste like a cross between a lemon and a pear, with a certain sweet tartness. Kiwis make all manner of things from these unique little fruits: sorbet and ice cream, cake, smoothies and alcoholic beverages like ciders. And then there’s figs. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the beauty of that bright green skin and deep red fruit – speckled with small seeds like tiny stars – or tasted anything like a fresh fig’s buttery smoothness. Though I miss cherries and apples from Door County trees, Central Otago produces beautiful deep red “stone fruits” in summer and apples easily ripen on trees in Hawkes Bay. Continue reading ‘Reflections on a year and a half abroad, from an almost expat’

10 Hours on Waiheke

•May 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

 

View of Waiheke from the ferry's top deck.

View of Waiheke from the ferry’s top deck.

ON SUNDAY, QUITE MIRACULOUSLY, WE MANAGED TO GET OUR ACT TOGETHER AND BOARD THE FERRY TO WAIHEKE BY NOON. Little wisps of cloud passed overhead, but there wasn’t a trace of rain – only the occasional salt spray to freshen our faces. After over a year living in Auckland, we had never paid the $36 fare to get to the island, only a half-hour trip off the city’s coast. As is commonly the case, Colin and I were always planning to go when we had more time to spend there. Finally, some customers of the French Cafe (mainly a Canadian woman who told me it was her favorite place in NZ) convinced me it was time to bite the bullet.

As the ferry docked with impressive speed and accuracy, we fetched our bikes from the rear deck and got ready to disembark. Now, I’d always wanted to cycle Waiheke – an island known mainly for producing some of the country’s best wines – and people had told me, “It’s pretty hilly.” Continue reading ’10 Hours on Waiheke’

One rain forest, three hunters and a great walk

•April 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment
The calm in between the storm: swans cruise on Lake Waikaremoana.

The calm in between the storm: swans cruise on Lake Waikaremoana.

We left Auckland, heading for Lake Waikaremoana at 3pm, which meant we were officially running late. This fact didn’t surprise either of us, but it did mean that we’d be driving through the rainforest at night, and likely in a thunderstorm.  We stopped for gas in Huntley and the cashier told Colin she was planning a visit to Austin, TX while he paid for fuel. We were impressed by this; Kiwis always say they’re either planning a trip to Vegas or have already been. I hopped in the driver’s seat to get my initiation in the Caldina. The sun went down before Rotorua, and the drizzle began as we detoured in search of a quick dinner at Burger Fuel.

After consuming our whopping veggie burgers, Colin got back in the driver’s seat and we pressed on. If it had been light out, we would’ve seen the mountains in the distance, rising up to meet us against the flat expanse of cow pasture. Soon enough, the pavement ended and a gravelly dirt road took its place. The caution signs weren’t bluffing: rock slides were plentiful, as were the blind curves in the road. The jungle walls rose up around us, and the occasional frog was visible hopping across the road in the headlights. At one point we turned a sharp corner and were greeted by orange cones surrounding a giant boulder, which had tumbled from the cliff side earlier on. When we finally reached Big Bush Holiday Park, it was 11pm and we were properly exhausted. Our water taxi was booked for 9am the following morning, and we planned to pass the night in the car rather than camp in the rain.

Inside the main building yellow lights glowed, illuminating Native American themed wall-hangings, a painting of a family headed west in a covered wagon, and a statue of a chief in full headdress. Empty bottles of Sapphire gin served as candle holders, leading Colin to comment that it must be somebody’s drink of choice. Carey, a short, broad-shouldered man with thick, calloused hands and a ball-cap, greeted us warmly. He organized a cup of tea to take the chill off and gestured to a couple free chairs at a table littered with brochures and booking materials. I think it was when we asked about good camping spots in the park that the conversation took a dark turn. Continue reading ‘One rain forest, three hunters and a great walk’

There’s a rat in my tree & other matters

•November 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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On Sunday, we hosted our first get together at our apartment in Auckland. At home (at least in Wisconsin) you might expect your host to provide drinks and snacks. Here no one expects that, on account of how expensive it would be to do so. In reality, we provided the venue for a small gathering and a grill. Everyone who came brought food and drink, and it was a merry time. Though in all honesty it couldn’t hold a torch to our epic Door County potlucks – it’s foolish to even compare – because we pretty much set the standard up on our little peninsula.

In any case, everyone had gone home by about 6pm and it was just me, Colin and our flatmate Rolo relaxing on the couch in our living room. And that’s when I spotted it. The rat – or wait, a possum? – in one of our banana trees, directly off the porch. We stalked to the window to have a closer look. We later looked up pictures of New Zealand rats and possums to make sure our identification was correct. Therefore I can say with confidence that it was definitely a rat, eating unripe bananas. I might not have believed it if it hadn’t paused, looked Rolo dead in the eye and then dashed off quickly as our neighborhood cat, the Ginja Ninja, approached and took up his post. We haven’t seen the rat since.

Continue reading ‘There’s a rat in my tree & other matters’